Force India’s chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer says the dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix acted as a positive and a negative turning point to the team’s 2017 campaign having clinched back-to-back fourth places in the Formula 1 World Constructors’ championship.

In the frantic race on Baku’s city streets the two Force India drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez endured their first high-profile clash when the pair collided after a safety car restart. The damage sustained to Perez’s VJM10 in the incident forced him to eventually retire from the race while Ocon was forced to pit with a puncture and drop to the back of the pack.

The French driver produced an impressive comeback to rescue sixth place for the Silverstone-based team but Szafnauer felt a potential double podium was possible after seeing how the race unfolded. As a result, the Force India chief says the race allowed the team to realise its full potential and ensured a strong recovery and strategy over the second half of the season.

“Probably the race in Baku counts for both [high and low]!” Szafnauer said. “Our car was very strong that weekend and the missed opportunity of a double podium was difficult to swallow. However, I’m proud of the way we bounced back from those difficult moments and showed a unified team spirit. That’s been a real highlight of the season.”

Szafnauer paid credit to his Force India technical staff for continually pushing the development of the VJM10 which helped the team secured a second consecutive fourth place in the F1 teams’ standings. Despite another on-track clash between drivers at Spa-Francorchamps – which enforced a rules of engagement between Ocon and Perez – Force India clinched fourth place with two races to spare and outscored fifth-placed Williams by over 100 points.

“I can’t remember a year where we brought so many new parts to the track,” he said. “At almost every race there was something different on the car.

“In the second half of 2017 we took some significant development steps and emerged as the fourth quickest team at most of the races after the summer break. Even when we had secured fourth, we were able to bring 2018 development parts to the car to help our learning for next year.”

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